If you have noticed small fine white bumps that emerge on the eyelids, forehead, cheeks or other areas of the body, you may have developed milia. This condition is extremely common in infants but is also frequently seen in patients of any age. Often, milia resemble acne that never develops fully. While milia can sometimes resolve on its own, you may want to see a dermatologist if the lesions become irritating or do not subside within a few months. Your dermatologist can also recommend an effective at-home routine that is tailored to your specific skin type to prevent milia in the future.

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What Causes Milia?

close up of the eyelid inclusion cyst during eye examination.

Milia are small cysts that form when small flakes of skin, specifically the protein keratin, are trapped below the skin’s surface. These pockets of trapped keratin create small pearly white bumps. Milia can occur due to:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Blisters (including burns or sunburns)
  • Occlusive skincare procedures or products
  • Prolonged steroid use
  • Damage to the skin

What Types of Milia Are There?

There are five basic types of milia:

  • Primary milia, the most common type which can be found on the eyelids, cheeks, forehead, or genitals in patients of any age
  • Neonatal milia, which occurs in newborns
  • Traumatic milia, which occur after damage to the skin (such as a burn)
  • Milia en plaque, a rare type that presents as broad, flat, raised patches
  • Multiple eruptive milia, which present in clusters

Who Gets Milia?

Milia is very common among infants but can affect people of any age. You may experience milia after an injury to the skin that damages your natural exfoliation process, such as a burn. 

How Can I Prevent Milia?

In order to prevent milia at home, it is important to exfoliate regularly, with either a physical or chemical exfoliant. Regular exfoliation helps to remove dead skin cells before they become trapped or built up, causing milia. Your dermatologist can suggest an effective exfoliation method that is suited to your skin type and non-irritating. 

In addition, it’s important to protect your skin to avoid damage such as sunburns. It’s best to use SPF daily to avoid sunburn and sun damage to support healthy skin. Remember to reapply sunscreen to your face and body if you’re outdoors for long periods of time. 

Why Treat Milia?

Sometimes, milia will resolve on its own without treatment over the course of a few weeks to months. However, you may want to consult a board-certified dermatologist to discuss treatment options on how to eliminate milia sooner or if the condition becomes irritating. 

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How Can I Treat Milia?

Milia on the skin of the face (also called a milium, plural milia, milk spot or an oil seed). Macro shot.

Your dermatologist can remove milia using specialized tools. It’s important to avoid trying to remove milia at home, as this can lead to increased irritation, infection, or even scarring. Instead, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to have the bumps removed in a safe and comfortable manner. 

Milia FAQs

Are Milia contagious?

Milia are not contagious or harmful to anyone. Milia only affect your cosmetic appearance.

Are Whiteheads and Milia the same?

No, whiteheads and milia are not the same. Whiteheads constitute a type of comedonal acne with a very fine white papule or pustule. Milia is actually a tiny cyst filled with dead-skin cells, but is not considered acne.

Can Milia be prevented?

Individuals typically have a genetic predisposition to having milia or not, but certain environmental factors can also influence the presence of milia. Milia can best be prevented by avoiding excessive sun exposure, minimizing the use of occlusive thick facial creams or ointments, avoiding the use of topical steroids for longer than your medical provider recommends, and with gentle cleansing and exfoliation of your skin.

Can Milia grow bigger?

Milia can sometimes grow bigger over time, but often stay the same size over time.

Can you squeeze Milia?

Milia can be squeezed, but often this may not resolve the lesion and sometimes painful inflammation or even scarring may occur if too much pressure or trauma is applied at the site. Thus, it is best to have the lesion removed by an experienced medical professional.

Does Milia on eyelid go away?

Milia can resolve on their own occasionally, but it may take months or even years without intervention. If a patient would like to get milia removed, they can do cosmetically with a minor in-office procedure performed by a medical professional.

What causes milia?

Milia are fine cysts that are filled with excess keratin, which is a protein that occurs naturally in the skin. They are often caused by trapped dead skin that form tiny cysts below the surface of the skin.

Schedule an Appointment

If you are dealing with milia, it can be frustrating if the condition does not resolve on its own and you are unsure how to prevent it with your regular skincare routine. An experienced, board-certified dermatologist can help remove milia safely and recommend steps you can take at home to prevent the condition from occurring. 

To schedule an appointment at Arlington Dermatology, please call our office or request your appointment online.

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